Environment

Eco tourism park for popular shrimp village

BY GARFIELD MYERS
Editor-at-Large
South/Central Bureau
myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, August 28, 2017

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MIDDLE QUARTERS, St Elizabeth — Now 50 years old, Sharon Ball has been selling peppered shrimp here since she was 18.

She is hoping that the recent launch of the Middle Quarters Eco/Agro-Tourism Park close to the centre of this famous shrimp village will bring even more business from visitors enticed by the local crustacean delicacy.

Located on the fringes of the lower Black River Morass at a bend in a tributary of the Black River described by locals as the YS River, the new eco/agro-tourism park, which has been two years in the making, forms part of a push to expand and enhance community tourism in St Elizabeth.

The park includes comfortable seating and a quaint foot bridge across the river, catering for curious visitors as well as locals who farm, fish and catch shrimp in and around the morass.

The project, on which $2.3 million has so far been spent, is being managed by the Middle Quarters Community Development Committee which had joined hands with a range of agencies in getting it going.

Supporting organisations included the Global Environment Facility, United Nations Development Programme, National Environment and Planning Agency, Tourism Product Development Company, National Planning Agency, St Elizabeth Municipal Corporation, Rural Agricultural Development Authority, and the training agency HEART Trust NTA, which trained locals including tour guides.

Member of Parliament for St Elizabeth South Western Floyd Green said the facility as it currently exists is “just a start” and much more will be done to bring in amenities including “water and light”.

The ultimate aim, he said, was to “make the tour buses spend more time” in the community.

Educator and chairman of the St Elizabeth Parish Development Committee (PDC) Dr Abrilene Scott said the new park represented continued efforts to brand St Elizabeth as a destination for country-style living, adventure, and heritage experiences while also “embracing healthy food”.

“The immediate focus of the PDC is to promote the forerunners of community-based tourism in the parish. The long-term goal is to create excursion hubs across the parish and attraction trails within the hubs. This will eventually lead, overtime, to branding of the parish as a destination for eco, heritage, and agro tourism, which is an alternative to the sun, sand and sea on the north coast. Ecotourism speaks to the natural, pristine environment all around us such as this park, and St Elizabeth is very rich in heritage sites with stories just waiting to be told,” Scott said.

Locals appeared to suggest that their methods of catching shrimp, using local materials including 'wild cane' to make shrimp pots and the stories of their industry dating back to the 1960s when village women originated the sale of peppered shrimp, will also attract visitor interest.

The shrimp business had changed and become more difficult, they said, largely because of a large, tough-shelled, “hard back” shrimp, an invasive species originating from overseas, which was gradually taking over the Black River. The hard-back species was multiplying even as the popular, “original”, tastier shrimp with a softer shell was dwindling in numbers, shrimper Devon Malcolm said.

Farmers had their own stories to tell, speaking nostalgically of decades ago when rice was a leading crop in and around the Black River Morass, including in the Middle Quarters area. Nowadays, they said, very little rice is planted though there remains demand for “organic rice” from a Rastafari community in faraway St Thomas.

Several speakers at the function, including mayor of Black River Derrick Sangster and Social Development Commission (SDC) representatives urged residents to take good care of the eco-agro tourism park project and to preserve the products of the Black River Morass.

“We anticipate that the benefits from this project will redound to the benefit of the general citizenship,” said Alrick Miller of the SDC.

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